Uh-oh. The Utah Legislature may have a serious problem on its hands.
It would appear that a certain Bountiful lawmaker has gone rogue down at the state capitol this legislative session. Indeed, this maverick Republican has been crafting legislation that — get this — actually makes sense.
Rep. Raymond Ward, R-Bountiful, has proposed a bill seeking to repeal language in the state’s health education curriculum that prohibits school teachers from “advocacy or encouragement of the use of contraceptive methods or devices.”
It’s kind of a huge deal here in Utah. Because nothing freaks out the parents of a teenager like the possibility that someone else gave their kid the sex talk they should have given in the first place.
Ward, a doctor by trade, argues that teachers in health and human sexuality classes are often afraid to talk about contraceptives with their students for fear they’ll run afoul of this advocacy/encouragement prohibition. After all, when it comes to using contraceptives to avoid pregnancies/sexually-transmitted diseases, it’s a mighty fine line between educating and advocating.
Relax, everybody. Under Ward’s House Bill 232, Utah would still adhere to the same abstinence-based sex ed curriculum we’ve all come to know and love chastely. Teachers would still be prohibited from talking about the really big stuff, like:
1. “The intricacies of intercourse, sexual stimulation, or erotic behavior.”
2. “The advocacy of premarital or extramarital sexual activity.”
3. “The advocacy of sexual activity outside of marriage.”
But in removing the prohibition against advocating or encouraging the use of contraception, lawmakers would allow teachers a little more breathing room when they’re tackling serious discussions involving preventative measures that would affect our teens’ sexual health and safety.
Of course, the fact that Ward is taking a thoughtful, reasoned approach to sex education in the schools doesn’t mean his colleagues will. And Standard-Examiner reporter Sergio Martínez-Beltrán’s recent story on the subject includes one of my all-time favorite reporter-politician exchanges:
“Asked about the likelihood of the bill making it through the House, Ward said, ‘I have no idea.’ ”
No idea. Really? Well, I’d be happy to take a stab at that one, Rep. Dr. Ward. Let’s see now …
Remember, this is Utah: Home to things like the Zion Curtain, the strictest drunk-driving standard in the nation, and beer that doubles as water. We find same-sex marriage more repugnant than multi-level marketing scams and have entire cities that ban things like recreational sports practices on Mondays since it would interfere with the predominant religion’s set-aside family night. We’re even afraid of our high schools using the “Phoenix” mascot — it sounds too much like the male anatomy.
We treat our adults like children and our children like possessions. So then, what are the odds the Legislature will do the right thing here?
Frankly, I’ve never understood this strange aversion to educating our teenagers about contraceptives. It’s like telling them there’s a simple, three-digit phone number they can call for help in an emergency, but we’re not going to give them the number because it might increase the odds that they actually use it.
Still, I give Ward credit for trying. And for also running a bill that would provide roughly 11,000 low-income women with birth control to avoid unplanned pregnancies. Why? Because, for the poor, nothing derails a train trying to get the heck out of Povertyville like one more mouth to feed.
And just in case you mistakenly think sex is the only thing on the representative’s mind, he’s also pushing House Concurrent Resolution 1 this session, a resolution on global warming and climate change that commits the Legislature and governor “to base decisions regarding state energy policies on the best scientific evidence available regarding local and global consequences for energy use.”
Imagine that. A Republican advocating logical, science-based approaches to things like sex and the environment. What next? Godless Democrats advocating for school prayer?
I hope I’m wrong, and all three of Ward’s measures are successful. Especially the one that lets educators be educators.
I’ve known plenty of school teachers in my life — from the ones who taught me, to the ones who taught my children and now grandchildren, to the ones who are close friends and family. And virtually without exception, they have been committed professionals who care deeply about their students and only want what’s best for them.
So then, whenever possible, we should allow these teachers to use their own sound judgment and training — even in dealing with the difficult subjects, like sex education.
I would hope that when my grandchildren reach puberty, the state would allow teachers to tell them the same thing I would, the same thing any responsible, thinking adult should:
“Having sex at your age is a bad idea. But if you’re going to be stupid enough to have sex, at least be smart enough to use contraceptives. And here’s why …”
That’s not advocating or encouraging, that’s straight-up educating.
It’s what teachers do best.